Creating a culture of continuous learning for plant personnel
When – and how often – do you train your staff?
The usual answer is when new employees are hired or when a new product or control system is installed. Once the newness has been addressed, however, training becomes less of a concern and retreats into the background.
This in itself should be a concern for power generation companies because operations and maintenance staff in particular are vital to the correct running of the plant. If they are not properly trained, they cannot run the plant at optimal efficiency. Training deepens their knowledge and improves their ability to make timely and correct responses to unforeseen incidents.
Training is not the only issue. Retaining the knowledge and skills learned is just as important. Weeks or even months may pass before the knowledge learned in the classroom can be applied to solve a real-time problem. By that time, it may be only dimly remembered or forgotten entirely.
ABB, like many other vendors, offers a comprehensive range of training programs for our automation and electrical products and systems. Where we differ is in our focus on knowledge retention and continuous learning – on bridging the gap between training in the classroom and executing and reinforcing those newly learned skills in the workplace.
We do this through a combination of conventional and unconventional approaches. These include:
- traditional classroom instruction through which we provide hands-on training at many different levels (beginner, advanced, troubleshooting, etc.,) and in many different product and system technologies. This takes place at ABB University facilities all over the world, always under the guidance of experts;
- on-the-job coaching, in which an ABB expert spends time working with staff at a specific part of the plant to build up their competence in that part of the production process;
- virtual training, through Web-based seminars or e-learning modules; and
- control system simulators, either cloud-based, low or high-fidelity, depending on the type of training required.
Taken individually, each of these approaches is a tool to address a specific customer need or preference. But taken together, they provide employers with the framework from which a program of continuous learning can be created for each category of employee. That program should be structured and ongoing over a longer period of time to ensure that employee expertise grows and that the knowledge and skills learned become second nature.
ABB is developing continuous learning programs for power generation companies and their personnel, in particular for control system operators, maintenance and engineering staff, technicians and IT managers. The objective of these programs is to create a learning path that boosts the competency of the individual over their working time at the plant.
Control system characteristics
The most common areas of expertise in need of a long-term approach to continuous learning are troubleshooting, maintenance and upgrading.
These specialties do not lend themselves to a one-size-fits-all concept of training. For instance, troubleshooting or maintaining a 10-year-old control system is far different to troubleshooting or servicing one that is new. The longer a system has been installed and running, the harder it may be to find the root cause of a process or equipment issue. The age of the system should be reflected in the training program for operating and maintaining it.
What are the benefits?
So what are the advantages of a long-term approach to continuous learning?
The main benefit is that staff are more competent and better equipped to make timely and correct decisions. They learn to be effective and efficient, not only when things are going well, but more importantly when unexpected risks to production, people or property occur. Problems tend not to occur during normal working hours Monday to Friday, but at 2 in the morning on a public holiday when most staff are not at the plant. Having knowledgeable, competent employees who can solve the difficulty and keep the plant running whatever the hour is a huge return on the capital invested.